Veteran Oilers return to the ice
Hockey: Okotoks boasts 15 returnees at training camp, Aug. 21-22
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 06:00 am
It’s been the quietest of off-seasons for the Okotoks Jr. A Oilers and why wouldn’t it be after a strong finish to the 2012/2013 campaign.
Following a tremendous run to the seventh game of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) semifinals, losing out to the eventual national champion Brooks Bandits, there’s little impetus to fix what’s not broken in Big Rock Country prior to training camp this week in Okotoks.
“We like the way we finished up last year. I think we built a lot of chemistry up within our group and had a good run at Brooks,” said Oilers head coach/general manager James Poole. “Hopefully we learned a lot from what made us successful and, maybe, why we just came up a little bit short.”
The Oilers finished second in a competitive South Division with 80 points followed by playoff series wins over arch-rivals Olds and Camrose prior to bowing out in Game 7 of the division final.
Okotoks returns 15 players from last season’s rookie-laden roster. Chief among them are elite netminder Jared D’Amico, captain Robbie Fisher, John “Mr. Playoff” Edwardh as well as third-year defencemen Jordan Swenson and Tariq Hammond.
“We feel on the backend we’re really strong with goaltending and defence,” Poole said. “Getting Jared D’Amico back with how we he played last year, it’s really important getting that number one starter back.”
Protecting the 19-year-old’s crease will be a recognizable defence corps, featuring the two 1993-born blueliners as well as sophomore rearguards Drew Weich, Stefan Danielson and Kyle Krabben.
“I think we’re at least going to be able to match every team in the league, but we’re going to (eventually) surpass them,” Swenson said of the strength of the defence. “It’s pretty rare to bring back five and especially five of this calibre.
“We were a very tight team last year, everyone gets along great. Adding in those extra few guys, getting them involved in our family atmosphere and I think it’s going to be a really good year for the Oilers.”
The Oilers are a little more depleted in the forward ranks, given the graduation of top scorers Chris Collins, Tanner Olstad, co-captain Greg Lamoureux and the invaluable Cody Michelle. Scoring will need to come from different sources this season as just four of the Oilers’ top-10 leaders in points remain on the roster.
“We lost some important 20-year-olds,” said Edwardh, a Holy Trinity Academy grad. “But I think with our group of rookies from last year now it’s our opportunity to fill those holes.
“Giving some of the second year guys more opportunities up-front, we have the potential to be a pretty good squad.”
Edwardh, who caught fire with 13 goals in 16 playoff games and earned himself a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, expects to be one of the go-to guys on offence in 2013-14.
“I might be given (that role) at the start of the year, but it’s up to me to keep that throughout the year,” he said. “That’s my goal going in.”
With few holes to fill on the backend and up-front competition should be fierce at the Oilers’ main training camp, Aug. 21-22 at Pason Centennial Arena.
“Finding ways to put the puck in the net this year is a bit of a concern,” Poole said. “Finding guys that can contribute in that aspect are going to be big for us and finding some of those role guys.”
There will be local flavour vying to make it for the hometown Oilers. Okotoks’ Matt Forchuk, an affiliate player last season, blueliner Jaret Bordt and Blackie defenceman Zach Fowles are among the 40 invited to main camp.
Following camp, the Oilers will host their second annual pre-season tournament, Aug. 29-31 at Pason Centennial Arena, featuring the reigning national champion Brooks Bandits and perennial championship contenders in the Camrose Kodiaks and Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
The Oilers close out the pre-season with an exhibition tilt in Brooks on Sept. 3. Okotoks opens its season on Sept. 7 when it travels to Father David Bauer Arena to square off with the Calgary Mustangs, now led by head coach Derek Stuart, a longtime member of Poole’s coaching staff.
The Oilers’ bench boss is optimistic the veteran Oilers will avoid the pitfalls of a challenging start to the campaign.
“In years past we’ve finished strong in a season, but perhaps been a little bit slow out of the gate and it took us a while to find our identity as a team.” Poole said. “This year coming into camp with 15 players we have coming back, hopefully they’re all on the same page on what we need to do to be successful. And the younger players that we fill in, hopefully they can learn from example.”
For more information on the Okotoks Oilers go to okotoksoilers.ca